When I was a little girl my parents took me to the circus every year. Not just any circus…the Barnum & Bailey Circus, otherwise known as the “Greatest Show on Earth.”
I remember watching with awe as trapeze artists performed daring feats overhead while the dashing Gunther Gebel-Williams worked with the big cats below. I was so in love with Gunther Gebel-Williams. My parents even bought me his plastic action figure, which I played with until I stopped playing with dolls. That toy is in my keepsake box right now.
Perhaps my best memory of the circus was the year my mom and I made the drive into Anaheim, California, early in the day to see the circus animals and all of the circus equipment and performers parade down the road from the train station to the (then) Anaheim Pond where the circus would go on later that night. We saw elephants and big cats, rare birds and horses. It was spectacular!
It was with these childhood memories in mind that I sat down in the theater to watch The Greatest Showman. I hoped upon hope that the movie would live up to my expectations, that it would not tarnish my cherished memories with tawdry images and some political agenda.
I was not disappointed.
The Greatest Showman is everything a circus lover like myself could have hoped for. It is ambitious, glitzy, boisterous, and showy. A true feast for the eyes and ears. It combines all the glamour and humor of the circus while remaining true to its human elements: touching love stories and the ups and downs of friendship which is tried by human error.
While not an entirely accurate telling of the history of the man behind the magic, The Greatest Showman hits the high notes and pays homage to the “Greatest Show on Earth,” which finished its 146-year run in May of this year.
Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams shine as Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum and wife, Charity Hallett. First-time director Michael Gracey orchestrated every element of this movie, from the cinematography to the music to the script, to be pure magic. Set against an original soundtrack performed by the actors, The Greatest Showman is a musical on the silver screen that draws the viewer into the magic that lived within the imagination of P.T. Barnum. I challenge you to leave the theater without bebopping to the theme song on the way to your car!
However, wrapped within this grand, fantastical, spectacle of a story lies a timeless and simple message: chasing your dreams is worth the risk, but having everything means nothing without the love and respect of your family and friends. Turn your back on that and your empire ceases to be significant.
Barnum’s dream was grand. It seemed impossible, but he made it come true by sheer force of will and determination. Everyone has a God-given dream. Whether it’s to invent the cure to a disease, build a business empire, or create the greatest show on earth, we all have something inside us that makes us tick, that only we can accomplish.
Barnum tapped into this magic inside all of us. He tapped into the human curiosity surrounding the macabre, dangerous, and unusual. He dignified the unusual by showing the rest of the world that those who society shuns contain an equal measure of magic, their own talents, dreams, and singular beauty.
Barnum invited the rest of us into the magical world he created, allowing us to be inspired by that dream to create our own magic. To make our own dreams into reality.
No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.
– The Greatest Showman
P.T. Barnum had it all. He had fame, wealth, prestige, and influence. But his achievements cannot fill the void left by his fundamental insecurities. Driven by a need to rise above the station he was born into, Barnum romances and wins over the daughter of a wealthy socialite. He builds his empire with her by his side and enjoys the fame and notoriety that go along with it.
But before P.T. Barnum can appreciate all that is truly important in life – love, family, loyalty, and friendship – he must lose it all. Indeed, after a fire destroys his investment and poor choices leave him on the outs with his friends and employees, Barnum is embroiled in a scandal that rocks his marriage to the core.
Only when Barnum finds himself penniless and alone, without a prayer of rebuilding his empire does he fully realize that what he worked so hard to build and maintain means nothing without the love of his wife, the companionship of his friends, and the peace that comes from knowing what is important and putting it ahead of all other pursuits.
The Greatest Showman will live on in the hearts of moviegoers. Young, old, black, white, republican or democrat, this movie will stir something in your soul. Perhaps it will revive that dream you put away long ago. Maybe it will give you the inspiration and energy to try something new. If nothing else, it will make you see your fellow man through fresh eyes that see the possibility and beauty within every human being.
There may not be a circus anymore, but each of us will face a decision that pits status, wealth, or glory against that which is truly important. It is my hope that underneath the glitz, glamour, and razzle-dazzle of this film, moviegoers will see the moral of the story and leave the theater just a bit wiser than they were when they walked in.
I know I did.